I tried to finish this piece before the Manchester City game, so I must caveat that it has been finalised with the benefit of having watched game one. However, neither the result or the performance affected my estimate for the season with what we know now.
A prediction for the 18/19 season at this stage can only be made in the context of the previous season. Here are the stats that mattered from 17/18:
Premier League table after 38 games
- Manchester City – 100 points
- Manchester United – 81
- Tottenham Hotspur – 77
- Liverpool – 75
- Chelsea – 70
- Arsenal – 63
- Games Won: 19
- Drawn: 6
- Lost: 13
- Goals for: 74
- Goals against: 51
That’s 12 points behind Liverpool in fourth. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to assess that a 12-point difference with fourth place and a 37-point difference with first place is terrible for a team of Arsenal’s calibre. With a season result like that you could argue that success for Unai Emery this season would be to not go backwards and maintain sixth position with a slight improvement on his points tally. That being said, nothing lower than fourth is good enough for the club so it may not be fair, but Emery has to exceed expectations in his first season.
The points tally required to finish fourth going back to 08/09 is as follows:
- 72, 70, 68, 69, 73, 79, 70, 66, 76, 75
That’s an average of 71.8 points.
So worst case, we can assume that Emery needs 75 points to secure fourth place and 12 more points than we managed to secure last season. Call it three wins and three draws. Despite sounding perfectly achievable, that is not easy in an ultra-competitive league, but there are three reasons that give me the confidence Emery can do it.
Reason 1: Goals
This team has goals in it. Despite a lacklustre season, we managed to score 74 goals only bettered by Liverpool 84 and Manchester City 106. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang is a world class striker and Alexandre Lacazette is a very good one so I’m confident the duo can register 40-45 premiership goals alone. We also create a hatful of chances. Only Manchester City and Liverpool missed more big chances than us last season. I reckon with a full season for Aubameyang, a confident Lacazette and a sustained goal contribution from midfield we can find even more goals to get those extra three wins and extra three draws we need. When you have goals you always have a chance.
Reason 2: We won’t be as bad away from home
Last season we had title winning form at the Emirates winning 15 games and earning 47 points. Only 3 behind Manchester City’s tally of 50 points.
In the last three seasons we have finished in the top three for home form, so it’s safe to say the Emirates is starting to become the fortress. Where we have come unstuck is away from home where individual errors have blighted us. We only managed to win 4 games away from home last season and shipped 31 goals. That’s an average of 1.6 goals a game. The good thing about having such a bad record is there’s no sugar coating it. Emery will have to address our away form and I’m hopeful he’ll be able to improve the concentration and tactics of the team to make us more robust.
Reason 3: Better competition and a fresh approach should improve players focus
Arsene Wenger did many things wrong in recent seasons, but I always sympathised with the way his players let him down through a lack of focus. For example, despite being past his prime Petr Cech was good enough to not make as many mistakes as he did last season. It was frequent kamikaze moments from players like Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka that undid any good work the team managed to do. I feel Emery will encourage more individual accountability and focus that should eradicate or at least reduce the frequent lapses in concentration we have become accustomed to. The increased level of competition in the squad should also help this. Lacazette has looked better since Aubameyang came in so let’s hope Stephan Lichtsetiner can do the same with Hector Bellerin, Lucas Torreira with Xhaka and Sokratis with Mustafi.
Now there are many of aspects to our game which could send us backwards, but I’m confident that these three reasons will help us to secure the points we need.
The other thing that will help our cause is that the competitors are in flux
Excluding Liverpool and Manchester City, there is every possibility that our remaining competitors may struggle this season. Tottenham have failed to add to their squad and with their extensive World Cup exploits, and the pressure of the new stadium they may not be able to sustain performance on all fronts.
Chelsea are starting another season with a new manager and without a top strike force.
Everyone seems pissed off at Manchester United. I don’t care who is in your team, an unhappy team is less likely to perform. So, the exploits of Harry Kane, Eden Hazard and Paul Pogba may not be enough to ensure their teams have better seasons than ours.
Emery’s style needs time to evolve
I haven’t spoken about the influence Emery’s style of play will have as I don’t know how much he is going to be able to implement it this season. We know that he favours a high energy pressing style aided by extensive preparation on exposing the opposition’s weaknesses, but he has inherited a squad that hasn’t changed much over the last few years. These are Wenger’s players and old habits die hard.
To have success he will have to maintain the good parts of our goal threat and home form and iron out the kamikaze mistakes. It will take time for his system and tactics to take shape, but im hopeful for the reasons above that he can secure the extra 12 points we need.
Pre-season prediction for 18/19 season: Fourth
Champions: Manchester City